Magazine article The Spectator

'The Noodle Maker of Kalimpong', by Gyalo Thondup and Anne F. Thurston - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'The Noodle Maker of Kalimpong', by Gyalo Thondup and Anne F. Thurston - Review

Article excerpt

The Noodle Maker of Kalimpong Gyalo Thondup and Anne F. Thurston

Rider, pp.353, £20, ISBN: 9781846043826

Can there ever have been another book in which one of the authors (Anne Thurston in this case) so effectively pulls the rug out from under the other?

Of course Gyalo Thondup is entitled to tell his story, beginning with his life as a boy in a small town near the Tibet-China border where, in 1937, his younger brother was identified as the 14th Dalai Lama. He recalls everything from then on without a shadow of doubt: his family's long overland trip to Lhasa, their transformed, luxurious life there, his trips to China, India, Taiwan and Hong Kong, learning Chinese and about China, and marrying a Chinese woman. He further describes being wooed by governments and intelligence agencies -- having been entrusted by the Dalai Lama with foreign affairs -- as well as his contacts with Nehru, Chiang Kai-shek and Deng Xiaoping. Perhaps of greatest interest to Tibet-watchers is his account of his early involvement with the CIA, and the agency's encouragement, sponsorship and eventual abandonment of anti-Chinese resistance inside Tibet.

The narrative shifts from one country to another as Thondup bargains, argues and makes deals about Tibet's fate, occasionally seeking approval from the Dalai Lama. He moves, also, from hope to disillusion, as he is wooed, coaxed, tempted and invariably let down. He never misses an opportunity to blast the Tibetan upper class for its naivety, corruption and blindness to the realities. Finally, giving up, he moves with his wife to Kalimpong and settles down to noodle-making -- thus giving the book its faux-modest title.

If one wishes to understand Gyalo Thondup's story, the central dilemma, Thurston seems to be saying, is OK, this is his version, there are other more believable Tibetans -- she gives their names, especially one who is 'a man of exceptional integrity' -- but my job here is to write what Thondup tells me. She mentions Rashomon , the Japanese film in which different actors recall an event in different ways. I trust Thurston. One of her great triumphs was to get Li Zhisui, Mao Zedong's doctor, to tell her what the Chairman was like behind the scenes, including his taste for underage girls, from one of whom he caught venereal disease.

The great test of Thondup's reliability is his handling of the CIA's involvement with Tibet. …

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